Once Was Lost, Now Is Found

I had forgotten about this essay, written in another blogosphere, 2009. The memory tugs my mouth into a smile, so I pause in my ancestor tale-chasing to share a small moment of my own history.

We had been home from Ireland less than twenty-four hours.  The dogs had been home from Uncle Jim’s Canine Retreat less than twelve hours.  WHAT WAS I THINKING!?!

Like an atomic clock automatically reset to the correct time when it crosses a time zone, Luci sat in front of her food container.  You can take the dog anywhere and she knows when its dinner and where the food will come from.  I obligingly completed the routine, ”Say please.”  All three dogs went down.   I then scooped out the correct portions, (which Luci insists are inadequate), gave the release command “Food” and they scrambled to their appropriate bowls, woofing down the kibble in 30 seconds or less.  Then I  let my posse out for the post-prandial bathroom break.  Like I said…..WHAT was I thinking?

My Three Muskateers

Cappy, Luci, and Fly

Nonchalantly I returned to the matter of finishing our human dinner.  Minutes passed before I glanced at the gathering dusk and thought “Maybe I better get the dogs in before it’s too dark, just in case Luci doesn’t remember the Invisible Fence Boundaries and we need to hunt.  Hahahahahaha.”   I stepped off the front porch whistling into crisp fall air.  No dogs.  I  rounded the garage whistling around its corner and noted the sun slipping just below the Appalachian horizon.  No dogs.  I called “Cappy! Fly! Luci!  COME!”  and walked briskly toward the meadow.  I chuckled at the sight of Cap and Fly, heads buried in the Lupine Patch, obviously enjoying some scat delicacy.  I whistled again, and they hurled themselves  toward me.

 No Luci Freckles followed.  I called “Luci!” again and continued to make a loop around the house. Step, call, step, call, step, call.  Each step coming faster, each call rising in pitch.  By the time I came full circle the neighbor German Shepherd had joined my call, and I figured that his was one less yard to search in. I stuck my head into the house shouting ”I need help finding Luci!” TD immediately exited the house, then the yard to search the neighborhood.

I kept calling “Luci!” at a steady, hollering pace, so that she could find her way home in the gathering twilight.  WHAT was I thinking!? Just letting them out, collars on, no supervision, five months old, aftersupper. WHAT was I thinking?! I seized my highly reactive brain; plan,organize, harness the energy!!!!

(BTW Jerome Kagan is so on to something)

Methodically I moved into the eastern side of the meadow, carefully calling and looking into neighbors’ yards to the left, then searching for movement among the thick patchwork of lupine, milkweed, four kinds of goldenrod, aspen saplings and grasses to my right.

Look left, call.

Look right, call.  Goldenrod stalks stand tall, seed puffs glowing in the dimming light like the pup’s tail I wanted so desparately to see.

Look left, look right.

A rustle and shake of some fur caught my attention, pulling it down a now-dark meadow path.  Hardly daring to hope that the missing caramel-colored pup could actually be just disobediently relaxing mid-meadow, I moved through the towering goldenrod.   “Luci?”  “LUCI!?”  Amid the crunching of leaves I could hear the crunching of teeth on animal bone.  ”Luci?” Lazily, she lifted her head from her rabbit meadow treasure and glanced at my distraught face.  “Uh, yeah, Mom, I’m kinda busy here.  Can I get back to you?”  I slipped the leash on without another word, and Luci-once-was-lost-but-now-is-found reluctantly pranced up the path with me, Cappy and Fly.

As I walked her into the neighborhood to rendezvous with TD my senses were released. For the first time I noticed the sky was streaked with vermillion and cinnabar stripes, pulled west to east, where they disappeared into the eastern dusky gray.   I took great drags of  late autumn air spiced with fallen maple, walnut and oak leaves.  The sky was streaked, not my face.  My throat was full of gratitude, not sobs. And Luci remained oblivious to the search and rescue mission TD and I had launched.

My heart had barely decelerated than I received this email from ITD:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Glad to hear that you guys had a good time and are back safely. I look forward to seeing pictures, and sharing stories with you of your time over there. In recent news, I have decided to spend my funds to do this winter trip with AP . I am in the process of trying to get a new passport, and will be filling out paper work with AP to get a visa with the Syrian embassy. I sent you the itinerary for the trip.blah…blah….blah….I am budgeting 2500 ….my savings…blah…blah…blah…. Let me know if you have problems/concerns with what is going on.(Emphasis mine)……blah…blah…blah…. I have talked not only with AP, but with 5 other people who are from Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan blah…..blah……blah…….Get back to me on the ongoing discussion. Best Regards,

Seriously, my son signed this bombshell “best regards.”

There is a local bridge repair that requires one to enter the expressway with no ramp, from a stop; 0 mph to 50 mph in about 100 feet.  ITD’s email required my heart to do the equivalent.  If it would have been helpful to the cause to jump up, run around the house, through the meadow, and along rock outcrop paths, I would have.  Such is my response.  Instead, I tore through the US State Department web site, pressing copy and paste buttons until I had my first email response.  I then went to bed.

I awoke with new clarity and initiated the day’s exchange with startling insights and careful ruminations.  Pithy one sentence letters -$1000 over 21 days=$48/day- were followed by pithy one sentence affirmations -We are amazed by and proud of you! - and then I concluded my day’s assault by reminding him of already owned STA student travel cards, NEXT  student insurance cards, and SIM phone cards.  Planning and research; it’s what I do when running  won’t yield results.

Having ITD travel into the very big world yanks my heart like Luci’s venturing to defy the recall whistle.  I can crash through a field of six-foot high goldenrod stalks, dried in autumn sun to a crisp brown. I can find and drag Luci from the object of her rabbit-lust. I can’t very well crash through the tangle of ideas, skills, and ambitions  I so carefully sowed throughout my son’s childhood.  I can’t find and drag my son from the object of his wanderlust.  Both Luci and my son challenge me to grab onto that calm-assertive energy, and become the person I need to be; so my son can become the person he needs to be.

Remembering 9/11: We are all together. Still.

This post was originally published September 11, 2010.

I finished my morning run on the dike, and walked to the car under deep blue skies.  The air carried the first smells of fallen leaves.  I unlocked the door, got in and took a drink of water before starting the car.  The radio greeted me with a special announcement rather than the music of Mozart or Beethoven.  This was the before moment.  Then there was after.

A plane had hit the World Trade Center.  No.  Two planes had hit the World Trade Center.

My cellphone rang and I answered, relieved to ramble with my brother about the certainty that these were terrorist attacks.  Who? What? Why?  And as we spoke, he cried, “Oh, my god! Something just hit T.C. Williams High School! Oh, my god! I will have to call you right back!”  And the phone went dead.

I drove home, in stunned silence, the radio serving as my companion through the next fifteen minutes.  National Public Radio hosts reported the Pentagon strike, and I thought of my brothers, the one coping with hearing the Pentagon’s explosion on his way to work, the other already in the Ronald Reagan Building near the National Mall.  What now?  Were they safe?  Was there more to come?

Oh, my god!  Perry! His office was just blocks from the World Trade Center! I checked in with my sister-in-law…he was so far safe.

I got home to speak with my house painters, who found it hard to concentrate as they applied one more coat to my trim. Their radio announced the Shanksville crash and they finally just climbed off their ladders.  We took turns sharing what we knew, breaking to call more family as we thought of one more person that might be stuck in DC or New York or Pittsburgh.   And then…

Silence in the skies.

It was still that perfect blue sky, with wispy clouds, sweetly fragrant with first fall smells. But it was so still.

My son called home to report that he had forgotten his trumpet and the band instructor would just KILL him if I didn’t bring it down real, real soon.  That was my moment of Can Do: we must be resolute, take this in stride, aid those who are hurt, show our children just how we Americans handle disaster.  I picked up that trumpet, got into that car, and headed into town, through the mountain pass along Toby’s Creek.  The valley opened up with those beautiful Poconos on the other side, the highway straightened out, cars picked up speed.  Just as I hit that 55mph there was a highway construction sign, the kind that can be programed for all sorts of alert messages.  Today instead of providing a heads up about construction it flashed:  All Roads to NYC CLOSED.

Up to that moment some part of my brain still said that this morning was a dream. That we had all just misheard the news.  But that pixelated message struck me with a ferocity.  We have been attacked.  We must learn to live and create now in fear’s midst.

I didn’t see the towers fall, I was too busy being resolute and determined to act with courage and be a rock for my children.  The trumpet was delivered and my child stayed in school all day.  Just like any other day.  My daughter stayed in school, with her classmates slowly being pulled out by anxious parents.  While they went through the motions of normality I found the nearest Red Cross Bloodmobile and joined dozens of Back Mountain residents giving blood for New Yorkers, who would never need it.

I continued the normal routine, which included cello lessons, and the children and I talked a bit along the way about what had happened and what we were feeling.  Keep going, I thought, just keep going.  Cellos got played and packed up–clack, clack, clack, clack went the latches of their cases.  We piled into our van and headed into the dusk.  The car seemed to drive itself to our church; I certainly had not intended to go.  But I had a sudden, overpowering need to be in community.  No one noticed or cared that we entered the crowded service very late.  We were all together, that is all that mattered.

The sun had come up and crossed a brilliant blue sky, and now it set in the same place as before.  East was still east and west was still west. But our moral compass as America had just been put to a huge test.  How would it survive?  How would we survive?

We were together.  We are together.  That is all that matters.  Still.

Remembering Nine Eleven

This post was originally published September 11, 2010.

I finished my morning run on the dike, and walked to the car under deep blue skies.  The air carried the first smells of fallen leaves.  I unlocked the door, got in and took a drink of water before starting the car.  The radio greeted me with a special announcement rather than the music of Mozart or Beethoven.  This was the before moment.  Then there was after.

A plane had hit the World Trade Center.  No.  Two planes had hit the World Trade Center.

My cellphone rang and I answered, relieved to ramble with my brother about the certainty that these were terrorist attacks.  Who? What? Why?  And as we spoke, he cried, “Oh, my god! Something just hit T.C. Williams High School! Oh, my god! I will have to call you right back!”  And the phone went dead.

I drove home, in stunned silence, the radio serving as my companion through the next fifteen minutes.  National Public Radio hosts reported the Pentagon strike, and I thought of my brothers, the one coping with hearing the Pentagon’s explosion on his way to work, the other already in the Ronald Reagan Building near the National Mall.  What now?  Were they safe?  Was there more to come?

Oh, my god!  Perry! His office was just blocks from the World Trade Center! I checked in with my sister-in-law…he was so far safe.

I got home to speak with my house painters, who found it hard to concentrate as they applied one more coat to my trim. Their radio announced the Shanksville crash and they finally just climbed off their ladders.  We took turns sharing what we knew, breaking to call more family as we thought of one more person that might be stuck in DC or New York or Pittsburgh.   And then…

Silence in the skies.

It was still that perfect blue sky, with wispy clouds, sweetly fragrant with first fall smells. But it was so still.

My son called home to report that he had forgotten his trumpet and the band instructor would just KILL him if I didn’t bring it down real, real soon.  That was my moment of Can Do: we must be resolute, take this in stride, aid those who are hurt, show our children just how we Americans handle disaster.  I picked up that trumpet, got into that car, and headed into town, through the mountain pass along Toby’s Creek.  The valley opened up with those beautiful Poconos on the other side, the highway straightened out, cars picked up speed.  Just as I hit that 55mph there was a highway construction sign, the kind that can be programed for all sorts of alert messages.  Today instead of providing a heads up about construction it flashed:  All Roads to NYC CLOSED.

Up to that moment some part of my brain still said that this morning was a dream. That we had all just misheard the news.  But that pixelated message struck me with a ferocity.  We have been attacked.  We must learn to live and create now in fear’s midst.

I didn’t see the towers fall, I was too busy being resolute and determined to act with courage and be a rock for my children.  The trumpet was delivered and my child stayed in school all day.  Just like any other day.  My daughter stayed in school, with her classmates slowly being pulled out by anxious parents.  While they went through the motions of normality I found the nearest Red Cross Bloodmobile and joined dozens of Back Mountain residents giving blood for New Yorkers, who would never need it.

I continued the normal routine, which included cello lessons, and the children and I talked a bit along the way about what had happened and what we were feeling.  Keep going, I thought, just keep going.  Cellos got played and packed up–clack, clack, clack, clack went the latches of their cases.  We piled into our van and headed into the dusk.  The car seemed to drive itself to our church; I certainly had not intended to go.  But I had a sudden, overpowering need to be in community.  No one noticed or cared that we entered the crowded service very late.  We were all together, that is all that mattered.

The sun had come up and crossed a brilliant blue sky, and now it set in the same place as before.  East was still east and west was still west. But our moral compass as America had just been put to a huge test.  How would it survive?  How would we survive?

We were together.  We are together.  That is all that matters.  Still.

The Cruel War Is Raging

In my last post, A Mom’s Goodbye, I began the story of Greene Dodson and his home-leaving to join the Army of the Confederate States of America.  Today I continue building proofs which document my family’s lore.

All sorts of paper have been saved by our federal, state and local governments, and while I may groan about filling out the forms today I am sure grateful my ancestors completed theirs.  The Confederate’s Citizens File is one such collection of forms and notes, offering proof of services and goods rendered by private citizens and businesses to the Confederate States of America.  My search of this data-mine was possible through the entity of Footnote.com through which I pulled up a file on James H Dodson, Mecklenburg County, Virginia.  Previous work with Federal census data from the mid-1800′s has confirmed the existence of only one James H Dodson in Mecklenburg County, and therefore this file documents some of the transactions my great-great-grandfather made.  Bonanza! for among these records was this scrap:

James H Dodson, Consents to the enlistment of his son. See paper filed with Co. I 25 Battl Va Inf–W.G. Dodson

The search moved to the files of Civil War Soldiers, Company I, 25th Battalion, Virginia Infantry (Richmond Battalion).  Upon clicking my cursor I felt a connection so palpable, I could almost talk to my ancestors.  In November of 1863, with the war continuing far longer than anyone had ever dreamed, Greene Dodson dropped out of school and traveled the hundred or so miles to Richmond, Virginia, capital of the Confederate States of America.  His father accompanied him in order to give his consent, which reads:


Richmond, Virginia  Nov 21, 1863

I hereby consent for my son, William G. Dodson, to join and become a member of Capt. Aston’s Co. I 25th Inf Batt.                                               James H Dodson

Witness: W.E. Hitchcock

It appears that someone had written out the text, with James filling in his son’s name, and signing his own name.

Four other documents are included in this file, yielding precious nuggets of information, keystone elements of my family’s story.  William Greene Dodson, seventeen years and eight months, stood 5’9″ tall.  Greene was light complected with dark hair. His hazel eyes must have burned with earnest bravado as the young farmer signed the enlistment papers for Captain Samuel T. Bayly.  Volunteering to serve three years or the duration of the War, my great-great-uncle took the oath of allegiance to the Confederate States of America and its leaders.  By the end of the day 25 November 1863 all the forms had been filled out, all the recruitment exams and procedures conducted–William Greene Dodson was a Private with Company I, 25th Battalion Virginia Infantry.

I imagine James and Sarah down home in southside Virginia, pausing during their chores, half expecting to see their son’s lanky frame come ’round a barn door. And then remembering with a mixture of pride and fear that Greene had stepped into being a man, answering a call to duty.

We leave Greene in Richmond, where he is on the List of Recruits, 31 December 1863.  There are no further muster cards for this ancestor with this company.  I can only speculate at this point what Greene did between December 1863 and 15 April 1864 when he re-enlisted.

Next:  The Dodsons of  Company B, 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry.

Zoom view

Map of Richmond, J.F. Gilmer, 1864


A Mom’s Goodbye

This morning, as I steeled myself to watch my son’s back recede into the maze of airport security this weekend, I felt a tug from the past.  “Remember,” she said, “he is going on an adventure, following his dream and his loyalties, to become the man he needs to be.  At least he enters into a world of safety and civility, with a university’s throbbing pulse.  He won’t be put deliberately into harm’s way.  You are lucky.”

Sarah Jane Rowlett Dodson must have felt awash with anxiety and sadness as she watched her son’s back recede down toward Dodson’s Corners, Virginia.  Greene left home to pursue his adventure as a soldier for the Confederate States of America.  He didn’t get the chance to become a man.

It is going to be much easier to ponder this mother’s goodbye than to say mine.  So my next few posts will be a bit of productive coping.


Zoom view

My proof that Greene Dodson actually existed and fought in The War Between The States begins with my Grandmother Strickland’s family history, “Some Genealogical Facts of the Strickland-Sayles Family”, compiled and written by Florette Sayles Strickland, March 1976.

James Dodson and Sarah Jane Rowlett, united in marriage 18–, in Mecklenburg Co. Virginia.  Born to this union: Greene, Virginia, Harvey, Henry, Dora, Molly, Adlaide, Rebecca Eulelia (Lillie), born Aug. 15, 1856, Edward (Ed), and William Rowlett (Bud).  ….Greene, the oldest son, was killed while serving in the Confederade (sic) Army near Petersburg, Va. shortly before the War ended. He had left school to join up, tho (sic) he was under age.

The 1860 Federal Census provides further evidence.  Listed among the residents of Regiment 22, Mecklenburg County, Virginia are Dodson, James (45), Sarah (35), William (13), Eugenia (10), Harvey(8), Maria (6), Mary (5), Lilly (3), Usebia (2).

Because my grandmother referred to the eldest son as Greene I have concluded that Sarah Jane’s boy was named William Greene, after James’ mother, Mary Greene.   The search among Confederate Soldier records included all the possible variations: William, Wm., William G., W. G., Greene, William Greene Dodson.  After falling down the proverbial rabbit hole, I found the muster cards provided some confusing results.

Next: The Confederate Citizens’ Papers yield an important clue.

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Map of Mecklenburg Co., Va. Surveyed under the direction of A.H. Campbell Capt. P.A.C.S. in Ch’ge Topl. Dept. [by] H.M. Graves Lt. Engrs. Sept. 1864.

Map Collection at the Library of Congress